Monday, December 27, 2010

ArchivesInfo Year in Review

The last week in December provides a perfect opportunity for review of the past year. In a way, this post falls under the heading of "shameless self-promotion," but I hope that you will bear with me and take interest in our cultural heritage work. You may find something here that encourages you to participate in our efforts or inspires you to take a harder look at your own community documentation efforts.

For ten years, ArchivesInfo has worked to promote archives management to ensure that community history is documented, preserved, promoted, and made accessible. My consulting work has aimed to preserve cultural knowledge through the building of strong collections that help tell the story of a community's past to guide its future. An important part of the ArchivesInfo mission has always been to secure cultural heritage by encouraging collaboration among cultural heritage professionals.  However, professionals are discovering that serious work with the public will help to ensure stronger archives programs and better documentation of society. We are realizing that archivists not only have a lot to share with the public, but that the public can share a lot with us.  It has been my goal this year to strengthen that public bond.

Once focused primarily on helping museums, libraries, archives and varied institutional collections, this past year ArchivesInfo has reached out to individuals with personal papers in their homes. This effort is an outgrowth of our "Preserving Memories" program, which has run for many years to provide information  about protecting family archives. The decision to reach out more directly to individuals is also a result of the publication this year of my book "Cultural Heritage Collaborators:  A Manual for Community Documentation," which describes methods for working together to preserve local culture and my new program "Life in Context: Telling Your Story," which I am running collaboratively with organizing guru Sue West of Space4U organizing.

1. I joined Twitter in 2009 (I think), but began tweeting in earnest under @archivesinfo this past year. My tweets cite interesting news in the  museum, archives and library fields with emphasis on preserving our cultural heritage and collaborative projects. Through Twitter, I have met many professionals around the world in related fields from oral history to archaeology. I have also met many people in seemingly unrelated fields, such as mathematics, who have demonstrated an interest in preserving cultural heritage. It perhaps has been my biggest pleasure to meet individuals interested in preserving their local and family history. I am honored to be told by some that they have learned much about archives from my tweets.

2. This year, ArchivesInfo also established a Facebook site. The ArchivesInfo web site has existed for a decade and has tried to include information that helps people with their archives management needs through a regularly updated list of helpful web sites, a newsletter, and other information laden pages. Facebook has given me the opportunity to try to create more of a back-and forth dialogue with an audience. In addition to the ArchivesInfo page, I maintain a page called Cross-Professional Collaboration in Museums, Libraries and Archives and a brand new page called "Life in Context: Telling Your Stories."

3. My summer book release of Cultural Heritage Collaborators: A Manual for Community Documentation was the result of twenty years of experience in archives and packs in advice from ten years of consulting for local communities. The book focuses on preserving cultural heritage through archives management. Its audience includes professionals in museums, libraries, archives, town governments, and other organizations charged with caring for historical records. I am currently writing a book that is set to be released in 2011 and focuses on preserving cultural heritage for the non-professional. These two books will work together to promote community documentation work and the safeguarding of historical resources. The book release this year was followed by the publication of my article "How Collection Planning and Collaboration Supports The Cultural Heritage Institution and Community Memory" in History News this winter. The article is the first by a History News "outsider" to be featured online in AASLH's History News Your Turn. It promotes the principles I outlined in the book.

4. The ArchivesInfo blog began in 2010 and basically (but not totally) replaces the ArchivesInfo newsletter. I found that I had too much to say and wanted more of a back and forth dialogue than the e-mailed newsletter afforded me. Blogging has been a wonderful way to explore news in the field and to share some of my expertise. At times it is also cathartic. I have enjoyed providing my reaction to controversies such as the recent National Gallery censorship issue and to create more lighthearted posts such as my "More Finds at the Local Antique Shop" bits. The newsletter still goes out once a month and highlights my favorite ArchivesInfo tweets and blog posts. I find that it is a vital and more visible way to stay connected to my local community and my core customers.

5. My work with repositories continues and I have also had some opportunity to work with individuals one-on-one to help them preserve papers in their homes. This continues to be my bread-and-butter work. My work with actual people is also the most rewarding, giving me an opportunity to see some of the things about which I write put into practice.

Next year should bring an even greater emphasis on locating family papers that are valuable for our cultural heritage and promoting their safekeeping. Despite difficult economic times, institutions have an opportunity to expand their outreach to the public. We must relay the importance of maintaining historical resources and work harder to include individuals in collecting work. I look forward to playing a part in these efforts and also toward continuing to help develop and properly maintain repository collections. I hope that you play a role too.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

later this week...the 2010 field in review

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